A number of marijuana-related initiatives were approved in Tuesday's general election, including two medical marijuana initiatives, two measures reforming asset forfeiture and one keeping non-violent drug offenders out of prison.
"Politics is perception, and the perception up to this point is that voters want tougher and tougher drug policies," said Bill Zimmerman, executive director of the Campaign for New Drug Policies. "The votes we saw (Tuesday) night represent a sea change in that perception."
Medical Marijuana Initiatives
Medical marijuana initiatives passed decisively on Tuesday in Colorado and Nevada, boosting the number of states where patients can use cannabis for medical use to nine.
In Nevada, 67 percent of the voters said yes to Question 9, legalizing the medical use of marijuana. Two years ago voters approved the initiative with 59 percent approval. Since Question 9 is a constitutional amendment, it needed voter approval in two consecutive elections. While the initiative did not limit a legal amount of marijuana a patient can possess, patients will need to register with the state in order to be protected by the state law.
Fifty-four percent of the voters in Colorado approved Amendment 20, which like the Nevada initiative, permits patients suffering from cancer, glaucoma, HIV/AIDS, multiple sclerosis and chronic nervous system disorders to use marijuana with the recommendation of a physician. Patients in Colorado will be allowed to possess up to two ounces of marijuana or cultivate six plants.
Substance Abuse Programs
California voters overwhelmingly passed Proposition 36, the Substance Abuse and Crime Prevention Act, with 60.8 percent of the vote. This measure requires first and second-time non-violent drug offenders to enter drug treatment programs, and eliminates the threat of jail.
"This is a 180-degree change in our drug policy. It's revolutionary," said Dave Fratello, the campaign manager for Proposition 36. "California has a reputation as a tough-on-crime state, and now I think we're showing we can be smart on crime too."
The initiative is expected to keep 25,000 non-violent drug offenders out of prison each year, saving the state of California $125 million in annual prison costs and $475 million in new prison construction.
Asset Forfeiture Reform
Asset forfeiture reform initiatives were passed in Oregon and Utah but the version in Massachusetts was narrowly defeated.
The Oregon Property Protection Act (Measure 3), which passed with 66 percent of the vote, reforms current civil asset forfeiture laws by requiring a criminal conviction before authorities can seize property. All forfeiture proceeds will go to drug treatment programs instead of law enforcement.
Utah's Initiative B, the Utah Property Protection Act, passed with 69 percent of the vote. The Utah initiative also requires a criminal conviction before authorities can seize property, but all forfeiture proceeds will go the Utah Uniform School Fund.
"I thought the issue was pretty simple and I think people understand that they deserve to have their property protected," said Janet Jenson, lead spokesperson for Utahns for Property Protection. "I didn't think you could get 70 percent of people to agree on vanilla ice cream."
Paradoxically, a similarly worded measure in Massachusetts, Question 8, was defeated 53 to 47 percent. As well as reforming asset forfeiture laws, the Massachusetts initiative would have eliminated jail penalties for most non-violent drug offenders.
Marijuana Legalization Ballot Measure No. 5 in Alaska, fully legalizing marijuana and eliminating the penalties for possession, use, cultivation and sale, was defeated by a vote of 60.8 percent against and 39.2 in favor. Had the initiative been approved, all non-violent marijuana offenders who are currently incarcerated would have been released from jail.
Local Initiatives and Policy Questions
Measure G in Mendocino County, CA, allowing citizens to grow up to 25 marijuana plants for personal use, passed with 58.3 percent of the vote. The initiative instructs the district attorney's office to make marijuana enforcement their lowest priority.
"The decisive outcome should send the message we were hoping for," said former Congressman Dan Hamburg, who helped campaign for the initiative. "The People have demanded that the focus of lawmakers and law enforcement shift to hard, dangerous drugs and not an illicit weed that's been around for centuries."
Voters in Massachusetts passed a number of public policy questions which call for state representatives to support medical marijuana and marijuana decriminalization legislation at the state capitol.
An advisory decriminalization of marijuana question passed in the Fourth Essex Representative District (64 percent), the Second Middlesex Senatorial District (65 percent) and the Sixth Middlesex Representative District (68 percent). The initiative instructs elected officials to lobby the state legislature to make possession of marijuana a civil violation (with a $100 fine) as opposed to a criminal offense.
A medical marijuana question passed in the Fourth Barnstable Representative District with 63 percent support.
"We did it to find out how the people in these districts really feel in a blind poll," answered Steven Epstein, Esq., a member of the Massachusetts Cannabis Reform Coalition/NORML. "It just shouldn't be a crime. We're talking about a substance we can be pretty sure both presidential candidates have smoked."
For more information, please contact Keith Stroup at (202) 483-5500 or NORML Executive Director or Allen St. Pierre, NORML Foundation Executive Director at (202) 483-8751.